A Rothko Mural as Red Eclipse

Kathleen McCoy


What appellations might eye shadow-makers ascribe to the painting? Royal Robe, Dark Princess. Or Torpor. Umbra. Occlusion. Eclipse. Eye of the Storm. Pareidolia. Fire Rose.

Umbra: shadow's darkness, or the part of the earth cast in shadow, or darkness cast by the occlusion of a celestial body. Inner darkness?

Why is the canvas darkest at the top? Ombre for lost hombres?
Mandala of the mind? Must we descend through darkness
before it's possible to be enfolded in a lap of light? Or
does light levitate at night when no one's watching?

This little life began in darkness. Single birch
with trunk growing in an amber-lit globe. Wake,
sleep, incubate, expand. Become wedged. Imperiled.
Then push or be pushed into life of light and noise and night.

In shadow life begins. Gesso bathes
the canvas that a black blanket swaddles. Babies see
first in black and white. When engorged breasts flow
newborns close their eyes to drink their milk in darkness.


Penumbra: region in which a portion of the source of light is obscured by an occluding body.

How does darkness coagulate like that?
A precipice appears, a fear of heights
engages, everything tightens, swirls,

leaves you teetering above a gaping abyss.
Gabs of midnight congeal, shuffle,
reassemble. Puzzle pieces form the figure

of an elder face, starting with the right eye in partial
profile, progressing to cheek, nose, chin, left eye, cloud
of hair. Gaze until your scalp, your body tingle.


Antumbra: region from which the occluding body appears entirely encased in a disc of light. Observers experience the annular eclipse, a bowl of blackness flashing its diamond ring.

For the first time darkness has a face. Joy, sorrow
well like the time-lapse motion of crystal formation or
stamen and petals unfurling, or,

when every person in the room laughs or cries
in synchrony, the listener's electric zap in the gut.
Darkest darks and lightest lights are reserved

for the final layer of oils, from where each point of paint
behind the elder face distinctly becomes another
human face, and another, and another—some

men, some women, some light, some dark, some
in-between, a menagerie of human beings, miasma—
chiaroscuro—cells in a singular body—dark globe full of light,

of movement like an empty room rife with palpable
presence beyond the spectrum of sight—
the cold, gloaming canvas field encompassed

by the warm, the numinous. Alive.
A murder of colorful crows
assemble in strange silence before

the gust of wind on which they,
one by one, take flight. Listen—
resonant as rain, a nascent ha

Kathleen McCoy

Kathleen’s second book is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, and her first book, Green and Burning (Word Tech Editions, 2016) was an Excellence Book Award finalist (Canada). Her chapbook was published in 2017 (More Water than Words, Finishing Line Press).

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